BANGKOK: Former Thai prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva is to face a charge of murder over the death of a taxi driver who was shot by soldiers during 2010 "Red Shirt" rallies, authorities said Thursday.
The Department of Special Investigation, police and Thai prosecutors announced the decision, which marks the first charges for deaths during the mass rallies in Bangkok against Abhisit's government.
"The tripartite meeting has decided to charge former prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and former deputy Suthep Thaugsuban under article 288," said DSI chief Tarit Pengdith, referring to the murder provision under Thailand's criminal code.
He said the group based their decision on further witness testimony as well as a court ruling that taxi driver Phan Kamkong was shot and killed by Thai soldiers during the country's worst political violence in decades.
Abhisit and Suthep will be summoned by letter to hear the charges and to be questioned on December 12, Tarit said, adding that authorities would not seek court permission to detain the men, who are both now opposition lawmakers.
About 90 people were killed and nearly 1,900 were wounded in a series of street clashes between demonstrators and security forces, which culminated in a bloody military crackdown. Two foreign journalists were among those killed.
Until now no government or military officials had faced charges over the deaths.
Abhisit, who oversaw the crackdown, has insisted the protest leaders should accept responsibility and said his government had no choice but to take tough action.
"It was the job of the government of that day to also restore order," he told AFP last month.
Red Shirts, mostly supporters of ousted ex-premier Thaksin Shinawatra, have raised accusations of double standards over the prosecutions of 24 of their leaders on terrorism charges for their part in the rallies.
Rights campaigners have said both the protesters and the authorities of the time should be held accountable.
Thailand has been riven by bitter political divisions since Thaksin was toppled by royalist generals in a 2006 coup that unleashed years of street protests by the Reds and the rival royalist Yellow Shirts. Elections in 2011 brought Thaksin's Red Shirt-backed Puea Thai party to power, sweeping Abhisit into opposition.
The accused Red Shirts, who include five current lawmakers, could in theory face the death penalty in a case that is set to begin on December 13. They pleaded not guilty in August 2010 to terrorism charges.
AFP was not immediately able to contact Abhisit on Thursday. Suthep said he would attend the hearing next week, adding that he would consult his lawyers before making any further comment.
The inquest into Phan's shooting in September was the first ever ruling on deaths during the 2010 rallies.
The court found that the 43-year-old was caught in a volley of gunfire when he ran out of a central Bangkok apartment block to see what was happening after hearing soldiers open fire at a minibus that had strayed into an area under army control.
Tarit said soldiers acting under orders would not face prosecution.